Just as many foods are labeled “fresh” or “natural” without any real meaning, furniture manufacturers can insist that their products are “eco-friendly” or “sustainably produced” with little proof. But you can do your own homework.
For wooden parts, consult the wooden furniture dashboard, produced by the Sustainable Furnishings Council and the National Wildlife Federation. The annual list ranks dozens of companies based on publicly available information regarding sourcing and transparency. Websites such as Remodelista and space hit also organize collections of furniture manufacturers with a focus on sustainability.
Sarit Marcus, founder of Minted Space, notes that furniture is best made from fast-growing trees such as mango and rubber trees, as well as plants such as bamboo, cane, rattan, reed and seagrass. Avoid slow-growing plants like Brazilian mahogany, Canadian white cedar, cherry, maple, and oak, which take decades to mature.
The next big concern is the use of harmful chemicals. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, over 80,000 chemicals are used in everyday items found in American homes, such as furniture. “Of these, only 200 are tested by the Environmental Protection Agency, and only five are regulated,” says Marcus.
Stain-resistant fabrics, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) found in lacquers, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) commonly used in outdoor furniture, and antimicrobials found in mattresses all generate toxins when produced. Flame retardants – found in upholstery, foam and mattresses – are increasingly linked to cancer, neurological damage and other serious health problems, according to national institutes of health.
Marcus recommends wool, recycled polyester and ultra suede for fabrics, and beeswax and linseed oil for furniture finishes due to their near-zero environmental impact.
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